Richard Branson with his daughter, Holly, and son, Sam.
If you're a parent, working from home can be one of those double-edged swords: On the one hand, it lets you get work done while giving you more flexibility to handle parental duties (especially if you've got a time-consuming commute). On the other, not getting enough face time with your bosses or colleagues can make you seem less invested in your career.
If it were up to Richard Branson, though, all working parents would be able to work from home. The business mogul recently told CNN's Poppy Harlow that he encourages his staff to work from home as a way to spend more time with their kids. He recounted his own early days launching Virgin, which he founded while living in a houseboat with his two young children. Even now, the billionaire works from home — or rather, his own private island — six months out of the year and encourages flexible schedules and unlimited leave policies in his own company.
Of course, we can't all just jet to an island whenever we feel like taking a conference call with an ocean view. But there are smart ways to set up a work-from-home situation so that you're being productive both on the work and parenting fronts.
Create a separate work-from-home space. Having a designated home office where you have peace and quiet to both concentrate and have uninterrupted conference calls is better for you and your colleagues (who wants to hear a barking dog in the middle of a serious meeting)? Not only that, it gives you a mental separation between work time and family time. Also, remember that if you're working from home regularly, the assumption is that you have child care — your company may even have that as part of their formal work-from-home policy.
Let friends and family know when it's "do not disturb" time. Sometimes working from home can translate to "well, while you're home, I need you to fix this plumbing emergency/solve this fight between the kids/run to the hardware store for an errand." Or maybe your neighbor likes to pop by for an impromptu gossip session when she sees your car in the driveway. Either way, let your friends and family know that you have set working hours, or come up with a plan — perhaps it's a whiteboard on the door — that lets people know when they shouldn't come knocking.
Schedule a hard stop to your day. Oftentimes working from home actually means working longer, because you'll work through your normal commute time. Plus, it can be easy to check office e-mail when your work station is just down the hallway. Unless you're in a deadline crunch, try to stick to a reasonable clock-out time, and resist the temptation to respond to emails or calls that come in after hours.
When in doubt, over-communicate. When you work from home often, it's easy to feel forgotten in the office. Speak up on conference calls, and figure out the best way to communicate in real time with your bosses and coworkers. Maybe that's chat, email or a phone call. Whichever method you choose, the key is letting people know that even if you're physically not with them, you're productive and available.